U.S. IP Priorities Identified in Upcoming U.S.-E.U. Free Trade Agreement Negotiations

U.S. President Barack Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced last Tuesday that the U.S. and the European Union (E.U.) would be entering into free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations following nearly two years of consultative talks and evaluation. Identified as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the potential FTA will a have a substantial impact on the world economy as it would liberalize nearly a third of the world’s trade. It may also have substantial intellectual property (IP) implications for IP owners if the U.S. and E.U. can overcome ongoing disagreements over international IP protection reforms.

Initially, there were low expectations that any substantial international IP reforms would result from the agreement. The U.S. and the E.U.’s High-Level Working Group on the TTIP stated in their final report last year (available here) that both parties should “address a limited number of significant IPR issues of interest to either side, without prejudice to the outcome” in their FTA negotiations. Further, news outlets reported that there were no plans for the U.S. and E.U. to harmonize their IP systems.

However, just before the February 12th TTIP announcement, U.S. congressional representatives sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk identifying priorities the U.S. Congress wants the TTIP to address, including strong IP rights protection for U.S. industries. Sent by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Senate Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the letter identified certain E.U. policies towards foreign IP as being substantial barriers to trade that should be improved. Particularly, the letter demanded that the TTIP establish measures to address EU policies that undermine the value of foreign IP protection—including pricing, reimbursement and regulatory transparency. Additionally, the senators identified geographical indications, trademark-like protections given to certain goods from specific regions such as CHAMPAGNE for sparkling wine and ROQUEFORT for cheese, as impeding the ability for U.S. agricultural businesses to compete in the E.U. market.

Lastly, the letter demanded that the TTIP should not undermine the U.S.’ ability to achieve high levels of IP protection in other U.S. FTA negotiations. In enacted and proposed FTAs such as the U.S.-Australia FTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership respectively, the U.S. established IP protections beyond minimum international standards established under World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)—known as TRIPS Plus standards, pertaining to a wide range of IP rights and enforcement.

Despite U.S. calls to address international IP reforms, it is unclear to what degree the U.S. and E.U. can find common ground to enhance international IP protections in their respective countries/blocs. This does not even mention the ability for the U.S. to establish TRIPS Plus IP standards with the E.U. as in other U.S. FTAs. Positive signs towards the potential of meaningful international IP protection reforms between the U.S. and E.U. can be seen in recent cooperative efforts including joint U.S.-E.U. online IP enforcement initiatives, and the establishment of the Cooperative Patent Classification system for harmonized patent document classifications that will be operational this year.  Further, the German government, the E.U.’s largest economy, has called for the TTIP to be a fully comprehensive agreement. However, the E.U. Parliament’s rejection of the U.S.-backed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement last July showed that the E.U. is potentially wary of considering enhanced international IP protections that would likely result from a comprehensive FTA with the U.S. Time will tell whether the U.S. and E.U. can established enhanced international IP protections.

What are your thoughts on TTIP and its potential for international IP reforms?  How will it impact you or your business?

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